By Paojel Chaoba
It was a simple day like any other at Kamjong town of Ukhrul district, but among the hills which surrounds the far flung town, the sounds of the ominous roar approaching closer and closer could not be ascertained then by the villagers.
The old woman ran helter-skelter with the approaching rumble, the staccato sounds suddenly became semi-visible amidst the thick fog which encompassed the hilly terrain. She announced to the nearby houses that ‘something’ was about to happen and this sounds and the intentions of the people accompanied with it were unpredictable and all should be prepared for the worst.
Then, the riders with the headlights turned on to cut through the thick mist rode into the sleepy town yet one by one. Attired with helmets, leather jackets, gloves, black boots and with the rugged demeanor reflecting the ‘bad biker image’ and with the red hot engines pulsating from the long ride, the Enfield Bullet riders rode into town. To one, the image may be mentally pictured similar to gunfighters riding into town in a cowboy film and the township venturing out to see who the scruffy strangers were.
The riders alighted their heavy machines and rested it in a plain area near the township and after a day of thundering down the serpentine road, the night was spent, over as the journey was an arduous one.
Then, come morning, the villagers came to the rider’s station,braving the everlasting drizzle. The residents of the village were availed to free medical check- up and medicines were distributed to the villagers. Thus, the identity and objective of the strangers became clear to the town. The old woman who had alerted the town before also came for the medical facility and post her treatment, she said that her ominous apprehension was un-founded and those who rode into town were good people or rather “Angels on Wheels”.
The Royal Riders Manipur, a club of Enfield Bullet enthusiasts having a membership of more than 140 plus riders have been conducting yeoman service to the far flung areas of the State since 2009 and post conception of the bikers club. The riders have a mandated program of conducting two medical camps in a year, the camps are conducted in the interior areas where medical facilities are at a negligible and where the roads are quite very un-road able ( the riders seem to prefer bad roads). The medical trip to Kamjong was one of such a mandatory activity of the Riders.
My experience with the riders for the first time was also an unforgettable experience in more ways than one. Having recently acquired a Bullet Standard 350cc, I was a naïve in the ways of the bullet riders’ world. My experience was limited to riding in city areas and to the ‘Bullet Hospital’ located at Kangjabi Leirak, Nagamapal, Imphal West. There, the main surgeons are Ta Brojen and Yambung, equally skilled at the surgical procedures of giving life back to agonized bullet engines. Ta Brojen , with a mafia hat and shortly build ,has a penchant for tossing a brute bullet bike weighing more than 160 kilograms like a bicycle. Ta Brojen along with Yambung performs internal organ operations as well as facelift surgeries to the myriad Bullets makes at their 4 by 8 workshop nearly every day. They are the super –specialist of the bullet biker medical world. Better yet, the operations are performed even thru telephonic communication. An adventurous rider having a mechanical problem at Leh or Sikkim or caught in any other ungodly terrain with mechanical problems will be given prescriptions by Doctor Brojen via mobile so as the rider can make it to the nearest repair shop.
They give the amateurs like myself proper riding instructions , how to dismantle and conduct repair works on a Bullet during emergencies, proper gear shifts downright to “How to push the pedal to start the Bullet”, I mean the old make original bullet with the gear on the right and the brake pedal on the left. The new euro- compatible bullet classic with the unit combined engine and the regular gear shift on the left side has no problems for the matter. However, Ta Brojen in a mellow tone had one day compared the old bullet to the new Classic. He had then said, “ Masak fajaba nupi ni, adubu yum panbadi yaroidaba,” ( A beautiful woman but won’t not be much of a home- maker). He was referring to the new euro norm compatible Classic 350 cc and 500 cc breed. To the old engine, he referred to as, “Meeron ama chatpa gari ni sina,” (The old make lasts a generation.) The veteran riders prefer the old ‘manly’ bullet with the dhuk- dhuk combustion.
Coming back to the Kamjong story, I was given riding instructions by Ta Brojen before the ride to the hill town. He had said that, tight brakes were not much good at hilly tracks,(this failed to make sense with me though). But trusting his better judgement, I did not tighten the brakes.
Then the faithful day came, I was prepared with a leather jacket (burrowed) , jeans, hand gloves, helmet, a tank full of petrol and a friend to ride pillion with me. The riders converged at Langol Hill office of the Riders and post briefing by the president, Mr Yambung. We all thundered away towards the Ukhrul road that sunny afternoon. When we took a pit stop, I looked around at my biker companions. They came in different hues, some in their late 20’s to middle aged riders, some tattoo decorated on their face even, some with beards but overall sporting a bad biker look. One was a fanatical Tapta (singer) fan, he had plastered a Tapta facsimile on his license plate and fixed a portable speaker on his bullet, so we were not without music along the route.
Then the drive further commenced on. I did not want myself to look very amateurish to the other veteran bikers and fortunately with the good roads, the drive upto Litan was more or less pleasant as the hilly track had not yet begun.But, post lunch at Litan, the riders revved up their engines, the cumulated thunderous roar of more than 26 bullet engines thumping out the horses from the silencer pipes was quite extraordinary to me too. The Litan village residents looked on in awe, the riders then started driving up along the hill track. Then, as the route progressed, one rider would overtake me at a time and after sometime, I told my pillion rider Ramananda to count the bikes, all 27 motorcycles were there , but we had the apprehension of getting left behind as the riders were quite adept at rumbling through the hill track and bypassing us as we were parked idle on the roadway. In fact it felt like we had to eat their dust, and this felt kind of embarrassing.
After nearly 121 kilometres of hill road and several check-posts later, the lush scenery was lost as thick mist enveloped the riders and at some point. Lights turned on, we collected ourselves in groups by waiting at some nearby outcrop or at a vacant space. Then, finally came the ride into town. All the riders had collected together and in medium speed thundered on, the unison of the brute engines riding tandem at the same gear gives a strange sensation . And while riding into town ,I felt like a gunslinger who is part of a famous gang riding into town. Whatsoever ! a bleak rush was definitely felt.
For the med camp, the riders had along 3 doctors and adequate medicines for free distribution and the medical camp commenced post a publicity drive held at the area. As mentioned earlier, braving the incessant rain and mist, at least 126 people from the peripheral areas came to the camp and availed medical facilities. Medical facility were administered for ailments like arthritis, dental problems etc and children were given nutritional supplements. The doctors at the camp had also pointed out a high number of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Talking to a rider , Jit. He told me that they had gone to Kuirei, a far flung area within Tamei, Tamenglong district. “We were immediately called on arrival, and this infant ,hardly a month old was brought to the place where we were staying. The child had a bad infection. But, after administering the vaccine, sometime later, the child smiled. At that moment I felt that everything was worth it. That moment, I cherish always.” He reminisced with a thin smile of the past medical camp.
In a dominant perspective, biker boys always have been labeled with being beer guzzling alcoholic troublemakers, looters and associated with random crimes. The Royal Riders Manipur may look like bad bikers but in reality are totally the opposite. Drinking is not endorsed by the riders and maintaining discipline is paramount for them. They divide the chores among themselves and every possible angle remains covered so as to prevent unwanted incidents. Trust building and maintaining a congenial relation with the pubic of the area is top priority for the riders. They have till date maintained their activities and for their Samaritan activities have been sobriqueted as “Angles on Wheels”.
Post the med camp, sports goods were distributed to the village authorities by the riders as to promote sport activities in the interior areas. Finally, the bullets again woke from their slumber and the roar of the 26 engines was heard by the town again.
We waved back to the children on the road. Finally, after spending two nights, we rode out of Kamjong. The weather was not as fair or well wishing as the people of the hill town. Visibility was down to 7/8 feet and a constant drizzle for one and a half hour soaked me and my pillion rider Ramananda. Despite having a poncho raincoat, water seeped in into my jeans, boots etc. My gloves were wet and I could not open my eyes due to the slicing raindrops and the helmet was rather an obstruction than an advantage. I became weather beaten and it would be a lie not to say that then I had thought that the trip was a bad decision. I could have ridden pillion if Ramananda knew how to ride my old standard bullet.
I wanted to get out of the rain asap, but there was no respite. Finally, we came onto a check-post and I stopped. I searched for anything hot to dry myself and a Nepali hotel had a small fire burning. I took out my socks and squeezed them, tried to warm myself by the fire, but the cold refused to leave. Finally, I asked the owner in Nepalese, “ Rum Cho” (Any Rum), and he said YES and even blurted a menu of availabilities . At that moment, I had felt a sense of deliverance and that my guardian angel was indeed working overtime. (I do not endorse alcohol but this was a life threatening situation and taken as a preventive measure to impending hypothermia).
Afterwards, the rain did not become much of a nuisance as my pillion and myself bellowed old songs for half of the journey back and gradually the weather became clear. Finally, we reached Imphal and after bidding Adieu to all ! I rode back to the old abode. There, the homemaker was waiting. On arrival and eyeing my dust caked person; I was greeted with a sort of smile which I could not decipher at once. But, then it flashed to me and I remembered the similarity of the smile. I had seen such similar smile worn by Clint Eastwood, in instances where he smiles wickedly, chews on the cigar and is about to gun down the villain.